Blackadder shreds backline – again
It's Colin Slade's turn to be Mr Fix-it.
Given the Crusaders backline's insipid performances in their first three matches, Slade, the third first five-eighth to be selected in four rounds, must feel like a project manager instructed to knock a stuffed building into shape ahead of tomorrow night's match against the Rebels in Melbourne.
With the bye next week, a loss against the Rebels will be unthinkable.
Slade, finally the preferred playmaker's after Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor were tried and discarded, has a major responsibility to get things humming again after form and injuries resulted in coach Todd Blackadder feeding last weekend's backline into the shredder and starting again.
Blackadder acknowledged Slade's influence on the backline in the final quarter, when the Crusaders surged back to beat the Stormers 14-13, confirmed he should replace Taylor at first-five.
''Just his [Slade] experience shone through a little bit,'' Blackadder said.
''He can just step up there and be a little more confident.''
At last, these selections make sense: Israel Dagg shifts back to fullback, Ryan Crotty and Taylor form the midfield combination and Nafi Tuitavake returns to the wing following a hamstring strain. Zac Guildford remains on the outer.
Veteran halfback Andy Ellis replaces the injured Willi Heinz and massive Fijian test centre/wing Nemani Nadolo has been added to the bench.
Hooker Ben Funnell is the only change to the forwards, replacing Corey Flynn who has a fractured eye socket.
Blackadder admitted former Hurricanes centre Reynold Lee-Lo's confidence was down and has been instructed to play for the Crusaders development side this weekend.
''We know he's a fine player, but we just went back to the experience of Colin Slade and a midfield pairing that worked bloody hard for us last year and got us to the semifinal against the Chiefs.''
Dagg's return to fullback ends a frustrating couple of weeks.
The message from the coaches is they want to square-up his running game, not put his outsides under pressure by crabbing across the park and to reduce his errors.
The Crusaders flew out to Melbourne yesterday afternoon.
Blackadder has reason to be anxious if he sees any team members suggesting the Rebels, who have a new coach in Tony McGahan and got rid of troublesome internationals James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale, are an easy ntsGannte ntsGeasynte cherry to be picked.
Their last trip to the Victoria capital two years ago was an embarrassment.
The heavily favoured Crusaders lost 28-19 against a side they appeared to be dismissed as a bunch of bumbling no-hopers and Blackadder's plan to leave Kieran Read on the bench mis-fired. When the No 8 took the field in the second spell, in the hope he would inspire the team to kick up a gear, he was fortunate not to be severely injured when he fell from a lineout.
Although the Rebels were walloped 32-7 by the Force last weekend, the Crusaders are cautious about their running game.
''Our away record (in the past) has been poor and we have put a lot of work into addressing that,'' Blackadder stated.
''Part of that is respecting the opposition. It is easy to get up for these big New Zealand games but we have probably lacked intensity on the road.''
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Nafi Tuitavake, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Luke Whitelock, Samuel Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Mitchell Drummond, Kieron Fonotia, Nemani Nadolo.